Name: mountain pepper, native pepper, pepperberry (Tasmannia lanceolata).
Plant type: evergreen shrub or tree.
Climate: cool and warm temperate.
Soil: moist and well drained, enriched with organic matter.
Position: full sun to part shade, with protection from the afternoon sun if planted in warmer climates.
Foliage: oval, leathery, green and aromatic.
Flowering and fruiting: small creamy-yellow flowers in spring. Flowers are unisex and borne on both male and female plants. If pollination is successful, clusters of small, red globular berries develop on the ends of stems. The berries turn black as they ripen.
Feeding: feed in early spring and late autumn with an organic, slow-release fertiliser.
Watering: water regularly to keep the soil moist.
Native to Tasmania, this large evergreen shrub or small tree grows to 3–5m tall and 2–4m wide. Its oval green leaves contrast beautifully with the bright pink-red stems, making it an attractive feature tree. Creamy-yellow and white flowers appear in spring, followed by small red berries that turn black as they ripen and taste sweet with a lingering heat. Both the leaves and berries are edible.
Plants are either male or female (dioecious), with fruit forming only on female trees. Female pepperberry flowers are generally smaller and paler with few petals, while male flowers are larger with many petals. You will need one of each tree planted close together to encourage pollination and fruit set.
A striking shrub or tree, mountain pepper is perfect in garden beds or pots, or for use as a hedging plant. The leaves are earthy and peppery and can be harvested for use in spice blends or mixed herb seasonings. Pick the berries and use fresh or dried in any recipe that calls for a peppery kick. You can also trim the stems and use them as meat or vegie skewers.
Choose a spot in sun to part shade with well-drained soil. If planting in full sun in warmer climates, additional protection such as a shade cloth will be required to prevent sunburn and moisture stress. Enrich the soil with compost and well-aged manure and fork in well. Dig a hole twice as wide and to the same depth as the existing root ball. Remove the plant from its pot, loosen the roots and position in the centre of the hole. Backfill, firm the soil and water in well.
Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of the plant to help conserve soil moisture and suppress weeds.
Water regularly and feed occasionally to keep mountain pepper healthy. Ensure male and female trees are planted next to each other to increase the chances of fruit set. No fruit will form if you do not have one of each plant.
Harvest leaves throughout the year and berries between March and May.
Mountain pepper is not known to be bothered by pests or diseases.
Water regularly to keep the soil moist. This may mean watering once a week or once every few days, depending on local conditions. Top up the mulch regularly to help conserve soil moisture.
Feed in spring and autumn with an organic, slow-release native fertiliser.
Prune after harvest in winter to help maintain its size and shape.
Mountain pepper grows from seeds or cuttings. Take tip cuttings in late autumn, remove the lower leaves and trim the remaining leaves in half. Dip the ends into a rooting hormone and insert into a tray filled with propagating mix. Position in a warm spot and water regularly to keep the mix moist.
After applying fertiliser, delay harvesting for a few days and rinse well before cooking and eating. If using products to deal with pests, diseases or weeds, always read the label, follow the instructions carefully and wear suitable protective equipment. Store all garden chemicals out of the reach of children and pets.
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Photo credit: Alamy Stock Photo and tuckerbush.com.au